Though there are competing origin stories for the term elevator pitch, its definition is not disputed. It’s a short spiel designed to sell someone important—your boss, a client, an investor—on something you need. It’s not a complete overview of your ask. It’s a persuasive argument—an enticing 15 to 30-second intro (something you could rattle off during a shared elevator ride) to pull that person in and leave them wanting more.
The importance of a well-crafted elevator pitch can’t be understated. I vividly remember the first time I wish I had one. I was working for a microlender that sponsored business plan competitions. Nell Merlino, the creator of the Ms. Foundation’s Take Our Daughters to Work Day, was the organization’s founder, and I was her assistant. After an award luncheon, I found myself stuck in an elevator—literally; it stopped working—with my boss Nell and her dear friend Gloria Steinem.
When prompted to introduce myself, I had nothing—no sweeping vision of my plans to advance feminist causes around the world. I squeaked out my name and title and then went silent and beet red. Don’t worry, I’m over it.
I can’t teleport back to that day in the elevator, but I can use this story as a cautionary tale to spare you from the same fate. Here’s what it takes to make a great elevator pitch.
Know your stuff
While I recommend rehearsing your elevator pitch, do not memorize it. You’ll find yourself fumbling over your words and beating yourself up for veering off-script.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received about public speaking is that you don’t need to know your pitch word-for-word, but you do need to know what you’re talking about. And guess what, you do. When your business or your life’s mission is part of your heart and soul, you can talk to strangers about it anytime, anywhere.
Sounds easy enough – speak from your heart! – but after years of watching pitch competitions I know they can be excruciating. Summing up your mission, career, or even just a project can become an existential exercise.
Sadly, I’ve found that when people struggle to speak off the cuff it’s because they don’t actually know what makes them uniquely valuable, and that is what makes them uniquely interesting. So before you begin drafting your elevator pitch outline, get clear on what you bring to the table. Then focus on these questions. I’ve broken down my FATFREE elevator pitch as a guide.
What problem do you solve?
This is not an overview of what you do. “I make widgets” doesn’t sound too exciting. But how about, “I make widgets that are 50 percent stronger and save thousands of hours in downtime usually wasted on fixing broken widgets”? Now we’re getting somewhere! Share how what you do makes your clients’ lives easier or better.
FATFREE is a full-service marketing agency that delivers lean solutions. We connect our clients directly with the talent on their project so we can offer big agency services without the big agency cost.
How do you do it differently?
If you already have a differentiating value proposition, this one’s a piece of cake. If you don’t, now’s the time to create one. In your elevator pitch, you must articulate, very concisely, why someone should do business with you over your competitors.
We are a small core team with a massive network of talent, so we can pull in exactly the right people for the job and start work quickly.
Why do you do what you do?
Backstory is crucial for context. Highlighting what inspired you to solve this problem makes your pitch more emotionally resonant and meaningful.
Our founding partners worked for big-name agencies. After the bubble burst, they decided they could offer the same quality work without the churn or massive overhead of big agencies.
What outcome do you provide to your client/customer?
Here’s the big finish—jazz hands optional. Think of this as your verbal CTA. Set an expectation of what your prospect is going to get from you, and make it easy for them to say, “I need that right now! Tell me more!”
When you partner with us, you work directly with the people executing your project, so you get the highest quality work with incredible efficiency.
Follow these steps, and you’ll find yourself exchanging business cards as the elevator doors ping open, rather than staring dumbstruck at the back of your feminist idol’s head as she strides away. I’ve moved past it, I swear.